A lively evening of Premier League football on Wednesday saw three games played, 14 goals scored and no clean sheets registered.
There were hauls aplenty but also some high-profile benchings, which we’ll discuss – along with the other key Fantasy Premier League (FPL) talking points – in this article.
Erling Haaland (£14.0m) finally, finally made it back onto the grass in Manchester City’s win over Burnley on Wednesday, albeit only as a substitute.
A couple of late chances went unconverted, including one clear opening in which he dallied too long before producing a comical air shot.
Signs of rustiness? His manager didn’t think so.
“No, [there was no plan for Haaland’s minutes]. If it was 7-0 at half-time, maybe he would have played more minutes. If it was 1-0, maybe he wouldn’t have played one minute. I don’t know, I don’t have many plans before the game.
“I saw him sharp, the feeling that he was there. He didn’t have clear, clear chances but he has three or four [nearly moments]. This is the quality of Erling.
“We have been really good without him for the last two months but with him, we are a better team and we are really pleased that he is back.” – Pep Guardiola
Julian Alvarez (£6.9m) responded to the growing threat to his place in perfect fashion, scoring twice with his only two shots of the game.
Guardiola insisted it wasn’t an either/or with Alvarez and Haaland, highlighting the former’s versatility, and the two indeed did play together in the second half, with the Argentina international assuming Kevin De Bruyne‘s (£10.7m) role when the Belgian exited.
“They can play together. Julian is an exceptional player. Maybe it’s a little bit more of a headache for me for selection but it’s good, they need to compete with each other.” – Pep Guardiola
When Haaland and De Bruyne aren’t in need of minute management, however, there’s likely only one loser from that situation.
ALL RIGHT ON THE NIGHT
On a similar theme, De Bruyne’s first start in eons meant that Phil Foden (£8.0m) had to move to a right flank berth from the number 10 role that he had shone in over the last month.
Maybe just as significant though was a start for Rico Lewis (£4.8m) at right-back, with the youngster ‘inverting’ from that role rather than bombing forward down the right flank a la Kyle Walker (£5.5m).
So, it was left to Foden to hold the width.
Above: Phil Foden’s touch heatmaps in Gameweek 21 (left) and Gameweek 22 (right)
Foden did at least chip in with an assist for Rodri‘s (£5.6m) goal but four touches in the box was way down on the 12 and 11 he registered in Gameweeks 20 and 21.
Off-the-field events likely influenced Walker’s first league benching of the season but in general, it’s a bit of a crapshoot at the back now anyway, with seven fit defenders competing for four slots.
Whatever combination, City have an incredible knack for conceding out of nowhere: a late Ameen Al-Dakhil (£3.8m) effort, which accounted for two-thirds of Burnley’s total xG, means it’s just one clean sheet in 11 league matches for the reigning champions.
RIGHT BACK IN IT?
There was a 21-point haul from a right-back in the Liverpool v Chelsea game but it was youngster Conor Bradley (£4.0m), not Trent Alexander-Arnold (£8.5m), who delivered the goods.
Bradley assisted strikes for Diogo Jota (£8.0m) and Dominik Szoboszlai (£7.1m) on either side of his first-ever Liverpool goal, and even banked a clean sheet when being replaced before Chelsea’s consolation.
This was the latest in a run of excellent performances from the budget Fantasy defender, with Joe Gomez (£4.5m) – who also kept the fit-again Andrew Robertson (£6.4m) out of the side – again impressing on the other flank.
What happens now, then?
Despite Bradley’s fine showing, it wouldn’t be a huge shock if the more seasoned Alexander-Arnold came back into the side in Gameweek 23. Not just because of the calibre of opposition (Arsenal) but also considering that Bradley has just started four matches in 11 days, something Jurgen Klopp alluded to in his post-match press conference.
Klopp also mentioned bringing Alexander-Arnold on against Chelsea to give him “rhythm” after his three weeks out.
“We change and maybe take tonight the two best performers off – they performed already well – Joey [Gomez] and Conor, we take them off because they played now an awful lot of games and we have Robbo [Andy Robertson] and Trent [Alexander-Arnold] on and they need rhythm.
“It’s like you bring them, obviously the goal we didn’t concede because of that but that was the period when they all of a sudden now with Nkunku and stuff like that, they came through and we had to defend slightly deeper and a bit different. But then we controlled it again and that’s the most important thing.” – Jurgen Klopp
Beyond that, Bradley’s emergence may mean that Klopp is more willing to rest Alexander-Arnold than he has been before.
If Liverpool do get handed a Double Gameweek 25, for instance, you wouldn’t be massively surprised if Bradley started the second of those two fixtures with an EFL Cup final following just a few days later.
“There’s no situation, it’s just how it is. We finally realised we had seven games in January with 11 days off in between, I don’t know how we fitted them in but obviously we had to start January 1. And we couldn’t have put the string of results together we had without the boys, without the kids. Without [Jarell] Quansah, no chance. We have both left-backs out, Trent out, midfielders out, all these things. [On Sunday] we played with James McConnell on six and he played extremely well. So, these boys used now the situation, and that’s exactly in an ideal world how it should be.
“Now the next game is coming in four days and I have no idea who can play again because they looked quite knackered when I had a look in the dressing room! Little back here, Macca [Alexis Mac Allister] on the knee – knee on knee – stuff like this. Nothing major, at least nobody told me that yet. So it’s all fine. We need them all – and it’s not a phrase, it’s exactly how it is. And I’m happy for them they all could perform the way they performed. The next massive game is coming up already, at Arsenal, and let’s recover and go again.” – Jurgen Klopp, when asked if Conor Bradley’s emergence has presented a “nice situation” at right-back
There was a lot of uncertainty over who would take Liverpool’s penalties in the absence of Mohamed Salah (£13.1m).
Alexis Mac Allister (£5.8m) was one frontrunner given his previous at Brighton but it was Darwin Nunez (£7.5m), who in fairness had an unblemished competitive record from 12 yards, who claimed responsibility on Wednesday.
The upright was promptly rattled; one of four occasions that the hapless Uruguayan struck a post or bar in Gameweek 22.
Above: Players involved in Liverpool v Chelsea sorted by goal attempts
The penalty miss and a booking were compounded by 10 other missed shots, with the ignominy of a minus score only spared by his late assist for Luis Diaz (£7.4m).
It was the type of game that only Darwin could deliver but let’s not forget that it’s now four successive games in which he’s produced a goal or assist, and he’s crucially viewed in a much higher regard by his manager than he was this time 12 months ago.
“An insane first half, unbelievable, I would say not to defend. Outstanding, really good. Why do we speak about Darwin? Obviously, because he has so many situations where he missed but it was the first game since we count that a player hit the woodwork four times in a game. Now think you are in his boots, how that feels. Missing a penalty, you could see it at half-time, he was really upset with himself. Then missing the header from close range, but then setting up a goal. He stays in the game.
“It is just crazy that he creates that many. Imagine for a second he would take them all… the numbers would be absolutely insane to the extent where you wouldn’t understand it anymore, so it’s normal. For us, it is important because we scored four goals. Who cares if we could have scored a fifth or a sixth? It is really not important. We need to win football games – and he will score. He scored already. Then setting up in a really important moment the fourth goal, because 3-2 or 4-1 is a big difference, that makes him really the player he is for us. The rest will come, definitely.” – Jurgen Klopp
Jota had earlier bulldozed his way through to open the scoring and deliver his seventh attacking return in four matches. He’s found the net with four of his last six shots, so he’s as ‘overperforming’ in front of goal as Darwin is underachieving, but you know who you’d back in a straight shooting competition.
There was a slight tactical tweak for this game, with Jota on the right, Diaz on the opposite flank and Darwin through the middle.
Chelsea’s latest desperate away day was their fifth defeat in six on the road.
They’ve also failed to keep a single clean sheet against a top-half club this season. One to bear in mind for Double Gameweek 25, when the Blues head to the Etihad.
Cole Palmer (£5.8m) was, like many of his teammates, anonymous, with line-leading duties not really playing to his strengths. The peril of benching a penalty taker in any fixture is very real, however, and twice the visitors had a close-ish shout for a spot-kick.
“I think it’s a final excuse. The performance wasn’t good from us. They deserved to win, they were better than us. Of course that is a situation that maybe provides us with an opportunity to be close on the score but to talk about this type of action today, I don’t want to talk about that because that is part of football.” – Mauricio Pochettino on a penalty that wasn’t given
One positive was the well-taken consolation from half-time substitute Christopher Nkunku (£7.4m), his second Chelsea league goal in just 175 minutes of an injury-riddled season.
He’s one for the watchlist from perhaps Gameweek 30 onwards, when Chelsea embark on a favourable run of fixtures.
I’M JUST A PORRO OWNER, I SUPPOSE – AND I WANT HIS CORNERS
Same old Tottenham, always scoring: that’s now 22 league matches and counting in which an Ange Postecloglou-led Spurs have scored at least one goal.
The Lilywhites are the only club in the division who can say they’ve found the net in every fixture this campaign.
And they’ve still got Son Heung-min (£9.7m) to come back from the Asian Cup.
There’s a danger of falling into the classic Fantasy trap of ignoring their players simply because they’ve got a blank in Gameweek 26.
Richarlison (£7.0m) made it seven league goals in as many matches with the tap-in for Spurs’ crucial third goal against Brentford, while James Maddison (£7.9m) was back among the attacking returns on his first start since November.
Maddison is ahead of even Bukayo Saka (£9.1m) and Jarrod Bowen (£8.1m) for points per start this season (5.8, 5.7 and 5.7 respectively).
The good news for Pedro Porro (£5.9m) is that Maddison’s return from injury didn’t affect his role at set plays, as the defender took four of the hosts’ five corners.
Porro was for once outshone by fellow full-back Destiny Udogie (£4.8m), whose 48th-minute leveller was quickly followed by a goal from substitute Brennan Johnson (£5.8m).
Timo Werner (£6.5m), off-puttingly listed as a forward in FPL but playing out on the flank for his new club, assisted for the second successive game.
BRENTFORD FORWARD UNION: ANOTHER STRIKE FOR MAUPAY
Ivan Toney (£8.0m) has wasted no time in reminding us of his goalscoring prowess. He was given a helping hand for his goal against Spurs by Udogie’s awful back pass, having given himself a helping hand for the Gameweek 21 free-kick against Forest, but a polished finish was still required.
The damage could have been greater, had he not lost his footing when presented with a glaring opening midway through the second half.
Toney had earlier missed another Opta-defined ‘big chance’ but did at least claim the assist when a strangely in-form Neal Maupay (£4.9m) bundled in the rebound.
That’s now six attacking returns in eight Brentford starts for Maupay since his return to west London, with his partnership with Toney showing signs of promise.
“You know, sometimes players fit in some clubs and sometimes they fit in other clubs, so there can be different variations and sometimes you get that confidence back that you know you’re a good player and you can perform.
“But of course, I’m very pleased, as you say, four goals in in four games and he’s getting on the end of it.” – Thomas Frank on Neal Maupay